The Hamster Wheel of Consumerism
In this digital era we are being bombarded with information, and this has a great effect on how we perceive the world and how we lead our lives. We have become mental slaves of the advertisements and commercials that we are continually exposed to, and we have the desire to imitate the lifestyle of celebrities that we see in pop culture news. This system of striving for a more luxurious life often leads to frustration and disappointment, as we can never have enough to appease our mind.
There is always something new around the corner. Whatever magnificent thing we buy, a new model with new features will soon hit the market, and it will make the thing you just bought seem obsolete or outdated. So we never feel truly satisfied and this makes us more susceptible to an even greater appetite for materialism.
This is normal. Better said, it is the norm. Our entire culture is built on these easy pleasures. We are tempted to look for superficial gratification and so we buy trendy smartphones and shiny designer footwear, believing they will make us feel better. Still, buying a car or cellphone brings you no more than momentary joy. That’s because we’re never satisfied and our hunger for possessions needs constant to be fueled with new random stuff that advertisements are convincing us we have to have. Our everyday aspiration seems to be to live a superficial, pleasure-driven and greedy life, like a rat in a Skinner box that is always looking for the next dopamine shot.
Does this retail therapy really work for you?
The submissive way in which we try to find happiness isn’t working. In fact, it is inane. You can strive for the typical pursuits that are desired by most people, like wealth, fame and possessions, but these base urges are not going to generate much happiness. It is people, friends and family, that matter. A healthy relationship is also an apparent happiness booster. Likewise, experiencing things will bring you a lot more joy than having things. The things that don’t last, like a night out or a city trip, almost always create a lasting happiness, while having something that lasts longer, like a car or a computer, soon loses its attraction.
Of course it’s easier to go with the flow, than to try to make independent life decisions. When life confuses us, when we are overwhelmed by misfortune, purchasing stuff is a time-honored coping mechanism. We feel a void in our lives and try to fill it with buying a silk shirt, sunglasses, a leather jacket, a 70-inch flat-screen, a new car, and all kinds of other crap we don’t necessarily need.
This is how we have been taught – from a very young age on – to get through difficult passages in our lives. Our parents did it as well, and so they gave us the impression that happiness was mainly to be obtained by material things.
When we are restless, we will often look for an immediate solution, splashing out our hard earned money on pointless things. Regrettably enough, these purchases have the opposite effect than what we’d expect. Sure, material things give us a temporary enjoyment, but that effect doesn’t last very long, and very soon we will feel our stress hormone cortisol increasing again. So with our credit card in hand, and our 24/7 access to the internet, we get carried away to buy more stuff, in the hope that happiness will spontaneously present itself, if we only have enough sparkly possessions which we can brag about.
Impulsively following your basic desires makes you a slave to your yearnings, a slave to the ideals and shady values of those around you. The thousands of advertisements you’re exposed to induce chemical signals in your mind so you will feel the urge to purchase more things.
Let’s say that at the end of your life you would discover that other people weren’t all that impressed with your lifestyle and the things you owned. Do you really want to depart this life leaving a big house filled with meaningless stuff? Or do you want to leave this planet knowing that people will think of you for all the wonderful memories you’ve lived and shared with them?
The obvious conclusion would be to reduce our desires and wants, to find peace and happiness by not wanting so much.
I disagree. Our ambition should not be to remove desire completely from our lives. Instead, our goal should be to transfer our desires to more valuable pursuits, like compassion, redemption, friendship, creating memories… To invest more in meaningful experiences with the people we love… These things we should pursue with great passion.
© 2017 – David Lee Kollberg